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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Monitors | Monitor Size ]

Monitor Size and Cost

In many areas in the computer world, when you buy more of something the cost per unit either stays the same or goes down. For example, a 4 GB hard disk drive usually costs less per gigabyte than an equivalent 2 GB hard disk does (unless the 4 GB just came onto the market). However this isn't true of all components, and it definitely isn't true of monitors.

I avoid discussing prices of components in the Reference Guide, because they tend to get stale rather quickly and because I want to focus on how things work. However, monitors overall seem to exhibit rather stable relative pricing that I find interesting because of the large gaps between different sizes.

When deciding on a monitor, it is important to realize how non-linear the pricing really is. In particular, the gap in price between a 17" monitor and a 20" or 21" one is quite large. This discrepancy is no doubt due to the difficulty in manufacturing these larger CRTs, and the more complex circuitry to allow reasonable refresh rates of bigger screens. The price variability of monitors depends greatly on the size as well. The difference in price between the cheapest and most expensive 15" monitors is normally around $100, while some 21" monitors can cost over $1,000 more than others.

The table below shows the usual monitor sizes, their typical viewable size and surface area (see here for more on these) and a "typical price" to get a good quality monitor of that size specification. Monitor prices vary widely but those prices give a general indication; better brands will be more expensive and lesser brands cheaper, but they will usually be so across the product line and I am interested in relative cost here. Then, the value is calculated as the number of square inches of surface area per dollar spent on the monitor):

Nominal Size

Typical Viewable Size

Viewable Surface Area (in^2)

Typical Price

Value (Square Inches per Dollar)

14"

13.2"

83.6

$250

0.33

15"

13.8"

91.4

$350

0.26

17"

15.9"

121.3

$650

0.19

20"

18.8"

169.7

$1400

0.12

21"

19.8"

188.2

$1600

0.12

As you can see, you pay a definite premium to go to monitor sizes above 15", and especially to go to 20" or 21". This is why most people use either 15" or 17" monitors; 20" and 21" monitors are used mainly by graphics designers (and serious gamers with a lot of money :^) ). 14" monitors provide a good solution for economy PCs but their abilities are often too limited for many people.

Next: Physical Size


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